Saturday, November 22, 2008

Birds, booze and broken dreams

I'm thinking I've made a bad choice. The women, the drink, the cigars, the hours spent doing nothing.

Not a bad life being an Old Firm keeper. There are drawbacks, of course. Artur Boruc for one must regret a few of those Polish lagers when he's pulling on Celtic's figure hugging shirt. Not so much a rippling physique as a wobbly belly like jelly.

And Allan McGreggor must sometimes think life's just far too complicated to even bother showing your appreciation for the young ladies. But still, you know you're living the dream when your life becomes an Eagles lyric.

And sometimes I think that could have been me. Not that I dreamed of playing for the Old Firm. But, many moons ago, as I picked myself up from the patch of mud that passed for a pitch, grasping the ball that I'd plucked from the air to make my second penalty save of the afternoon, that dream was within touching distance.

Alas it was not to be. The eight goals that I conceded from open play dented my confidence. And I'd have looked truly shocking in a skin tight Nike jersey.

Saturday Special

One of the benefits of feeling like crap is being able to spend an afternoon submerged in Scottish football. A small benefit to be sure, but paupers in a credit crunch can't be too choosy.

So our afternoon kicks off at Love Street where Artur Boruc, apparently no stranger to love, showed himself to be quite street as well, avoiding a red card when many a ref would have stubbed him out like a discarded cigarette.

St Mirren held their own but, as Scott Booth mentioned more than once in yet another turgid Setanta co-commentary, you need to take your chances against Celtic. Boom, boom. 2 nil and Celtic are cruising. We've seen it all before.

With about half an hour to go last Saturday Jimmy Calderwood was staring at three points on the road, Mixu was staring into the abyss. Two goals later and Hibs have a point that feels like a win, Aberdeen a point that feels like the death of a reasonably close friend.

Jimmy's woes continued at Ibrox as Ranger closed the gap to four points again. If depression lingers then Hibs proved what a difference a last minute Steven Fletcher sclaff can make by running out 4-1 winners at Motherwell.

Hibs fans of a certain vintage may remember the heady Alex Miller days when Brian Hamilton powered the midfield. The engima of Hamilton, it was said, was his ability to play well away from home before freezing at Easter Road. No enigma, the guy was terrified because of the stick he took in Leith. With apathy and antipathy rolling down from the stands at the moment might the whole Hibs team be suffering from the Hamilton syndrome? Time will tell.

Across Edinburgh Hearts continued their strange season. Third in the league with a win over Falkirk. Will that please the Jambo faithful? Or are they suffering from withdrawal symptoms? A message to the Gorgie Boys: a team that isn't imploding might make for a duller life but sometimes simple is good.

Dundee United continued their Jekyll and Hyde season with a draw at home to Hamilton. Accies finding a bit of form again but I had really expected Levein to have led United to a comfortable third place by now.

Inverness continued to haul their themselves away from the relegation battle with a fine win over Kilmarnock, Mehdi Tauoil getting into a spot of bother and no doubt ensuring the redoubtable Mrs Jefferies will be welcoming home something quite removed from a bundle of fun this evening.

So we are...well, where are we? Hamilton close the gap on St Mirren who really, really need to start scoring goals. Celtic and Rangers are as they started, Hearts get a sliver of breathing space over United.

And Hibs move into the top six but remain only a couple of wins off a bottom of the table scrap. This league produces few winners and few losers but yet again there's confirmation that this year's big question is not who's best of the rest but who's the runt of a dismal litter.

No place for Pulitzer

Nice article over on about the merry band of men who have the often unenviable job of covering the national game for a living.

It is easy for those of us who choose to write about Scottish football for either love or some deep lying psychological flaw to sit back and criticise.

I think Matt Vallance sums up things up with his tongue in cheek sympathy for:
The 'Praetorian Guard,' the chief football writers of the various national newspapers. You have to feel sorry for these guys – in every match they cover, at least one team will be wearing either green and white hoops, or a royal blue or navy blue jersey.
That is, of course, part of the problem when we hope for consistently strong journalism (not, sadly, in sport alone). The pond is just too wee. The need to keep sources on side gets in the way of the blunt truth.

Which leads to the frustration that many of us feel when we turn to the backpage. There are exceptions of course. But they tend to just prove the rule.

It's also one of the reasons why the now daily macho chest beating on Radio Scotland and elsewhere is so annoying. The hacks with microphones may be the kings of their jungle. But when your jungle is nothing more than a back green, what does that actually mean?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hand of God botherers

Apathy had set in long before a nightmarish cold took away any lingering pretence of interest that I had in Scotland's friendly with Argentina.

I don't actually know why we played the game - reading the reports I can see little evidence of this being much of a learning process for a manager whose qualification hopes are already hanging by a thread.

Do the players learn from testing themselves against the best? Apparently that's the theory but this Scotland line up was no closer to being the starting team against the Dutch than this game was to being a rehearsal for a likely World Cup semi final.

But it was a glamour game, the blazer buttons were polished and the little SFA was at the centre of attention. They love that, love it more than they hate to see swathes of empty seats at the national citadel.

And, of course, there was the added attraction of Diego. I wish him well, I really do. Not because of the Hand of God and the pathetic idolatry of the Tartan Army in the absence of any of their own glory to celebrate, but because someone with that much talent should remain involved in the game.

Who but the most die hard Englander could ever be happy if our lingering memories of Maradona were of a greasy permed chubster, fat nose covered in the remnants of his last snort, arguing with Pele over whether drugs busts or Viagra touting are the hallmarks of the Greatest Player Ever?

Unfortunately one of the die hard Englanders is our own assistant manager. I couldn't care if the Scottish coaches came from Outer Mongolia. But Terry Butcher shouldn't have been allowed to get involved in the media scrum. However honourable and pure the intentions in Argentina were, making Diego coach was always going to result in a media pantomime. Butcher provided the hacks with another angle and the former hotelier just couldn't resist.

So Hand's of God, Russian linesman and handshakes or not become our memories of the game. Not the rather tasty goal or the so-so performance of Scotland.

All in all, not a great week I would say.